With the NCAA tournament in full swing the past couple of weeks, former LSU standout Garrett Temple was reminded why that event means so much to the hopes and dreams of so many players.
Then again, Temple really doesn’t have to be reminded — certainly not this season, the 10th anniversary of the Tigers’ march through the Atlanta regional bracket to a Final Four berth in Indianapolis.
Temple, who now plays for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, says he and his former teammates are living proof that just one timely game-winning shot can change the career paths of many.
In this case, the “One Shining Moment” was Darrel Mitchell’s long 3-point basket with 3.9 seconds left in a second-round game against Texas A&M that pushed fourth-seeded LSU to monumental upsets of top-seeded Duke, the No. 1 team in the nation, and second-seeded Texas in the regional semifinals and finals.
“If Darrel hadn’t made that shot against A&M,” Temple said last week, “who knows where everybody would be.”
Temple, a defensive-minded guard, said he might not have played six seasons and counting in the NBA after paying his dues at lower-level stops and forward Tyrus Thomas might not have been the fourth player taken in the 2006 draft.
In fact, all five of that team’s starters — each of whom played their high school ball in Louisiana — went on to productive pro careers after their memorable NCAA tournament run.
Forward Glen Davis wrapped up an eight-year NBA career last season, while Mitchell and forward Tasmin Mitchell, along with Thomas, are still playing overseas.
Forward Darnell Lazare, who was the team’s sixth man, is also a Louisiana native.
“There’s no question that Louisiana isn’t just a football state,” former LSU coach John Brady, who led the 2006 team to the program’s fourth Final Four, said this week. “This state has traditionally and consistently produced very good basketball players.
“The great thing about that group is they were all good-character guys, and that had a lot to do with their success,” Brady said before chuckling. “Heck, if we had gotten a few more guys like that, I might still be coaching there.”
Less than two years after that Final Four appearance, which came after LSU went 27-9 and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title with a 14-2 mark, Brady was fired.
But in 11 seasons with the Tigers, he led his team to 192 wins and four NCAA tournament appearances with the final one in 2006 being the most memorable, of course.
However, it almost didn’t happen.
No. 12-seeded Texas A&M had fourth-seeded LSU on the ropes in their second-round game until Mitchell rose and buried the 3-point shot to send the Tigers to the regional semifinals against Duke.
Brady said Mitchell perfectly executed a play the staff put in for him just a week earlier for a late-game situation like that.
The play, which was appropriately named “Special,” called for the Tigers to screen the screener and play off a switch.
Mitchell would drive to the rim if the defense didn’t switch, or he would step back and fire if a big man popped out on him. His teammates set him up and Mitchell delivered what Brady said is one of the biggest shots in LSU history.
“His back was to me; I was standing right behind him when he let it go,” Brady said. “It was on line the whole way and as soon as it left his hand, I said, ‘That’s going in … boom!’ There have been some big shots made at this school, and that’s one of them.
“I nicknamed Darrel the ‘Silent Assassin’ because he was so unassuming with his personality,” Brady said of his 5-foot-11 point guard. “He never brought any attention to himself, but he was a clutch player and a leader. You can ask anybody on that team.”
That slim 58-57 victory advanced LSU to the Sweet 16 against mighty Duke and All-American guard J.J. Redick, the AP national player of the year.
With the 6-foot-6 Temple drawing the defensive assignment and harassing him at every turn for 40 minutes, Redick went 3 of 18 from the field. He managed 11 points — nearly 16 below his average of 26.8 — as LSU pulled off a 62-54 shocker.
“I know it opened some eyes,” Temple said of his superb defensive effort that evening. “A lot of people still talk to me about it to this day. I was only a freshman then, but NBA scouts are looking at guys in high school.
“Hopefully, that game put me on the radar as a guy who had some defensive skills that would translate to the NBA.”
Two nights later, LSU defeated No. 2 seed Texas 70-60 in overtime to set up a national semifinals date with UCLA in the Final Four. There, the Tigers’ dream of a national title abruptly ended with a 59-45 loss.
But like LSU players who made it to the Final Four in 1981 and 1986 and came up one game short of playing in the championship game, Temple said it was still a lot of fun getting there.
“We had great guys, some great pieces on that team,” he said. “We had Darrel running the team at the point, I tried to be the glue on defense, then we had Taz and ‘Big Baby’ and Tyrus inside.
“Everything just fit right because we bought into coach Brady’s system and everyone played their role to a ‘T.’ ”